Fly fishing rod

Valley News – Column: Hunting and fishing to spend time with old friends

Published: 09/16/2022 18:10:04

Modified: 09/16/2022 18:06:11

If all goes well (and when does it ever?) you’ll be reading this as I cruise down the upper Missouri on the back of a drift boat, facing downstream, with a guide right behind me ; one of my oldest and dearest friends at the other end of the boat; acres of big brown and rainbow trout that surround us; yellow sandbars and poplars on both sides of us; and the sweaty ghosts of explorers of long ago who splash and (I presume) swear as they row and perch and pull their keelboats towards the mountains to the west that they have yet to somehow cross another to reach the Pacific Ocean.

My friend Baird and I had to postpone this once regular trip twice, first for COVID – I dared not, as a “compromised” person, fly – and again last year as global warming heated up the river almost to toxicity to trout. But we are trying this year, as late as possible in the season.

The main reason is less the fish than the business. This is what happens with age. Fish and game become less important, and hanging out with your ever-smaller group of old buddies becomes more important. I used to mark the habits of, say, a particular white-tailed deer and make a vow to do everything I could to meet it during deer season. Now I see it in a friend’s game cam and find myself wishing it well into another year.

Here on the river the electric charge of a big trout catching a small fly (luckily there’s a guide, I don’t even see some of the flies) is about as exciting as I’ve ever had had. And seeing a fat guy whistle my line trying to get rid of me is another. But we shorten the game these days to avoid unduly stressing the fish. The brave new world is upon us and we must begin to adapt to its demands, even here in this idyllic setting.

Part of these demands are the increase in aquatic vegetation, the black beast. Rising temperatures just mean more algae, especially late in the season. The normal response is “Aargh!” But then you consider that instead of picking greens from your line in rural Montana, you could squash fruit flies in Vermont, and a few extra greens seem pretty insignificant.

The birds also make this place special. From the little guys I don’t recognize crossing the river like tiny balls, to bank swallows and tree swallows flying around looking for flies, to mergansers protectively guarding their children and cackling kingfishers, they fill the air. Above them are breeze-loving vultures, and far above, perhaps a hawk or an eagle. Finally, flocks of brown pelicans, some of the most beautiful fliers imaginable. They seem to be able to hover on a puff of air no larger than a desk fan and land as delicately as if they were in a slow motion movie. When the fishing is slow or my acquisition instinct is calm, I can sit with the idle fly rod in my hands and stare at them for long minutes. We approach, are there and soon disappear downstream; they’re there after we’re gone, all of them, until they head south for the winter.

I don’t want to make the experience sound like the Garden of Eden. Sometimes a cold wind gnaws at your legs persistently, despite the long underwear, and creeps inside your fleece layers. In other cases, rain that lasts all day ends up seeping into the knees of your rain pants or taking advantage of the fact that you can’t fly fish with your arms pointing down and back to the bottom. inside your sleeves.

Drifting boats are masterpieces of evolution. In my seat in the back (for some reason the other two voters in the crew won’t give me the front seat), the seat swivels; I can sit comfortably against his firm back or stand, leaning against a thigh-high contoured fence in front. The guide has oars that he can simply drop, if necessary, and between his knees, the belay line. A quick jerk, the line pays off from the bow and we’re ready for as long as we want.

On our way to Lewis & Clark County, we’ll stop at a parcel shop and pick up the essentials for our pre-prandial hour: crackers and cheese, sausages, maybe a little mustard (although I could score a little in small packets at supper time in a local bean), and about a liter of whiskey. Two old men and maybe some company for five nights; should be a lot. The guide drops us off after a long, nerve-wracking day on the river and rumbles away in a cloud of dust. We carefully hang up our fishing rods, take off our wet shoes and socks, and take a shower if we get sweaty. Then the long-remembered ritual of quiet evening conversation and memories with an old friend.